National report ranks Yuma 76th in food hardship
The congressional district that includes Yuma ranked 76th in a report that measured food hardship in the nation.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva's District 7, before the new boundaries were established, had a 21.2 percent food hardship rate, according to a new report from the Food Research and Action Center.
This was a slight decrease from 2010-11, when the local district had a 22.7 percent rate.
For this report, FRAC asked more than 352,800 people in 2012 whether there were times over the preceding year that they did not have enough money to buy food for themselves or their families.
“It's not a surprise and it's very scary,” said Mike Ivers, executive director of the Yuma Community Food Bank.
Ivers traveled last week to Washington, D.C., where he and other Association of Arizona Food Banks representatives met with an Arizona delegation of elected officials.
Ivers read them paper plate messages written by children, veterans and seniors served by the food bank.
“We're trying to make them aware of the need. My goal was to make them cry and I did,” Ivers said.
“It's a very scary situation. We see the demand for services continually rising. There's unprecedented need as families struggle, especially the children. It's important they're aware of that.”
He noted that they're seeing people who used to be donors and now they're in need. He pointed out that some clients are experiencing “extreme circumstances,” such as losing jobs, work hour reductions and health problems.
“We had a couple come in who had their grandsons go live with them. They depend on them to provide food, clothing and shelter. There's a single mom working very little hours. There are people who are disabled.”
Often, people think only the “unworthy” go to food banks, “but it could happen to any of us,” Ivers said. “One women wrote, ‘In my home no one drinks, no one smokes, no one does drugs.'”
In the last year and a half, the food bank served close to 5,500 veterans, including a father of two who was injured in Iraq. “He told us, ‘I used to think the food bank was for people who didn't want to work and were lazy.' It could happen to you and me.”
In the state, the food hardship rate increased slightly in 2012, according to FRAC. In 2012, more than one in five Arizona households (20.9 percent) reported not having enough money to buy the food needed during the previous 12 months.
This ranks Arizona 14th worst in the country in food hardship, up from 15th worst with a 20.5 percent food hardship rate in 2011.
Since food hardship first began being tracked in 2008, Arizona has consistently had high rates, with 20.8 percent in 2010, 20.5 percent in 2009 and 18.8 percent in 2008.
Nationwide, food hardship dipped to 18.2 percent in 2012, a 2.2 percent decrease from the 2011 rate, the highest rate ever recorded.
“Unfortunately, these new food hardship rates show Arizona is still struggling with the lingering effects of the recession,” said Ginny Hildebrand, president and CEO of the Association of Arizona Food Banks. “With uncertainty around possible sequestration and other budget cuts, it continues to be a very tough time for Arizona households struggling with hunger.”
On the other hand, Ivers noted that Yuma has responded well to a call for help, with local businesses, schools and organizations holding fundraisers and volunteering at the food bank. “We have had an incredible response.”
Last month, the food bank announced a $1.5 million capital campaign, with an anonymous donor pledging a matching contribution of $500,000.
The campaign funds will be used to purchase equipment and as matching funds for grants. The funds will also allow the food bank to better serve existing 24,000 monthly customers and more people.
The food bank unveiled several ways community members and businesses can help. Local companies can display campaign signs and paper plates in their place of business and ask customers to donate $10. Donors will be invited to sign plates and write messages of hope for food bank customers. Materials, including signs and paper plates, will be provided.
Businesses and organizations can also join the effort with matching donations or by volunteering during their lunch hours. For more information, call the food bank at 343-1243.
To read the full report on hardship rates, visit www.azfoodbanks.org or www.frac.org.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.